Johan Bävman hails from the world's most equal nation – or is it?
The Malmö-based photographer certainly believed so when he began putting together his moving Swedish Dads photo project last spring.
The freelance photographer's project aims to document and highlight the lives of Swedish dads on parental leave, photographing them while they change diapers, do groceries, or console crying babies – all while on Sweden's generous parental leave package – often praised as one of the best in the world.
"I had the idea to start this photography project when I myself went on paternal leave," the award-winning photographer told The Local from his south Sweden home town on Thursday. "It began because I soon discovered that there was actually so little literature out there on 'how to be a dad'- mostly everything I found was directed at mums. So I started to search for father role models instead."
"I originally wanted to highlight the so-called gender equality that Sweden is praised for, which friends in my surroundings and people abroad all seem to assume is the reality here," he added.
Swedish parents are entitled to up to 480 days of paid parental leave after a child is born or adopted, and up until the child turns eight. Out of these days, each parent has 60 days reserved exclusively for him – or her. Should a father – or a mother – decide not to take their allotted allocation, those days cannot be transferred to the partner, and are lost. Legislation is under review to add another mandatory 30 days to this 'exclusive reserved days' policy.
In addition, an 'equality bonus', called 'jämställdhetsbonus', is in place, which can give parents up to about 14,000 kronor (US $1,700) per year. The more leave days shared between parents, the higher the bonus.
A glimpse of Bävman's Swedish Dads photo project. Photo: Johan Bävman
The goal is to encourage more fathers to take some time off in the hope of improving gender equality. But despite the generous package on offer, Bävman said he discovered that sharing parental leave equally wasn't as common in Sweden as he'd expected.
"In my own circles, among my 'middle-class' environment and friends, it has always been very gender-equal," he explained. "So I genuinely thought this was the case for all Swedes. But I soon discovered things out there were actually quite different. I learnt along the way that it just wasn't as 'equal' as I suspect people think," he said.
"I started to look at the numbers, and discovered that we are actually not so equal as we think we are in Sweden, despite how Swedes often pat themselves on the shoulder and are so proud of their gender equal system and so on."
He dug out official research which shows only about a quarter of Swedish dads use their reserved 60 days. Even fewer – 12 percent to be exact – choose to share the total days equally with mum.
"That's when I decided to focus my project on portraits of dads on paternity leave that are among those that have chosen to stay at home with their child for a longer time then the average father [at least 6 months for the most part]," he said.
The Malmö native 'recruited' fathers by word of mouth or posting ads in various preschools in Sweden, asking for parents to contact him if they were interested in taking part in the project.
He has so far photographed 30 dads, with his goal to photograph 60 in total, to represent the 60 days of leave that they are encouraged to take.
Bävman added that he didn't think that the economic aspect is what most impacts on fathers' decisions, saying that it is rather "about the culture and role models."
"Some Swedish men just don't see themselves going on parental leave," he said.
"And also, some Swedish mothers still have a hard time handing over the responsibility over to the father."
He hopes his photo project will dispel the stereotype of the perfect Swedish gender equal society.
"Twelve percent of dads sharing things fully with mums is not enough. That's a long way from 50 percent, which would actually mean real equality. And to get to that number is still a challenge Sweden faces."